I returned Sunday from the international conference of the Association of Personal Historians (APH), held in St. Louis this year. I’ve attended the APH conference on many occasions and have often spoken to their organization, as I did this year. I always return home full of ideas for expanding my personal historian’s repertoire and enough renewed motivation to carry me through until the next conference. I’ve never belonged to an organization with so many bright, generous, like-minded people. Strand us all on a deserted island and we’d probably spend our days scratching our stories on palm fronds and sailing them out with the tide to be found by people in another day.
I can’t tell you the number of times I heard people at the conference say “I love what I do,” or “I can’t believe I found this wonderful profession,” or “I see myself doing this for the rest of my life.” There’s something about helping people record their story for posterity that satisfies our primal need to commemorate the human story, to halt the march of time, to validate the best in all of us.
The process alone fills me with enough gratitude and satisfaction to keep me going. Occasionally, however, someone reaches out with a word of thanks for a service rendered that feels like icing on the cake. I tasted a bit of that sweetness when I returned from the conference and found that my husband had placed a letter on my desk. The letter was written to both of us by Shelly Airmet, who lives in Kamas, Utah. Not knowing our address, Shelly had sent it to our publisher, who forwarded it to us. I’ve transcribed it below in its entirety, with Shelly’s permission. Read on and you’ll surely understand how this letter made me feel, but more than that, its inspiring message will likely convince more of you to keep working on your own stories so you can taste the deep satisfaction Shelly so beautifully describes.
Dear Morrie and Dawn,
I never thought I could write my parents’ and my own life story, so it is with much gratitude for your expertise and knowledge that I write this letter. About three years ago my older brother (by twenty years) asked if I would write about my relationship and childhood with our parents as their daughter. You see, our parents had eight children, starting with five brothers and then three daughters who came later in life. I am the caboose of the family. So life with the boys first would prove to be a different experience for them. The challenge was that my brother would also write his feelings from a son’s point of view.
I like a challenge, but after several discouraging starts, I wasn’t sure if I was up for the task. That was until I walked into our family office and noticed your book, Breathe Life into Your Life Story, a book that I was meant to find! My husband had purchased your book some years earlier to help with his own writing. Well, I was hooked from the moment I turned the first page. I read a bit and then wrote a bit and took notes all along the way within the book. I laughed and I cried as your book helped me to be honest and record memories from my heart. I wrote a life story to honor my dear parents and one that I could be proud of for future generations.
Brad, my husband, surprised me by having my story bound like a real book, and I was able to present the book to all my brothers and sisters at our family reunion in June. So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your taking the time to help me accomplish something that seemed way out of my league.